Theatre of Shadows: Borneo 1834 by Serge Lutens
You throw yourself, oh blind one, upon something non-existent
Even as upon a mirage evoked before your eyes,
Upon a golden tree appearing in a dream
A shadow play amidst a human crowd
Buddhist Therigata, first century B.C.
Borneo 1834, the latest scent in Serge Lutens non-export line is his homage to patchouli. “1834” in the name supposedly refers to the year when patchouli, brought to Europe wrapped with the bales of silk to scare off moths, became popular with the chic Parisiennes. Described as “the dry and silky scent of patchouli leaves” and “a memory of waltzing Paris”, Borneo 1834 has the notes of “florals”, galbanum, Indonesian patchouli, cacao, camphor, cardamom, cistus, and labdanum. The design on the Limited Edition bottle was inspired by the wayang, Indonesian theatre of shadows, where the stories about gods, kings, and ordinary mortals are acted behind a cloth screen and presented to the audience through the shadows cast by puppets. The fragrance itself is shadowy too, it is a dark scent in which no note is particularly distinct. It starts as a blast of something vaguely medicinal and chocolatey, a slightly minty, somewhat nose burning accord follows and is in turn replaced by an opaque, warm note of patchouli in the drydown.
Despite the fact that Borneo 1834 is meant to be a patchouli-heavy scent, the main note, to my nose, is actually that of another moth repellant, camphor. I believe its strong, penetrating, pungent, aromatic odor adds that medicinal and cold-minty accord to the perfume. Incidentally, one of the varieties of camphor comes from Borneo and is called Borneol. Combined with the cacao accord, this note makes Borneo 1834 one of the strangest scents I have ever experienced. Not being overly fond of patchouli, I was surprised at how much I liked that dreaded note, when it finally flourished on my skin during the drydown. Patchouli in Borneo is both warm and dry and is made especially attractive by the almost unpalatable and most probably, for me, unwearable top and middle notes. This is the same effect that was used by the master puppeteers Lutens and Sheldrake in Tuberose Criminelle, in which the tuberose note was made heartbreakingly delicate and beautiful by the sheer strangeness of the cold and minty notes that preceded it.
Kipling’s colonial romaticism of Borneo appeals to me immensely, I admire the patchouli note in this scent and do not particularly mind the cold pungency of camphor in the beginning. What renders the scent unwearable for me is the cacao accord. Were it more distinct, perhaps the effect could have been more striking. As it is, the cacao note here is rather blurry, self-conscious and shy; its insipid sweetness only muddies what otherwhise could have been a remarkably dry and dark scent. Still, Borneo is undoubtedly a unique scent and the one that will be always fondly remembered by me as a fragrance that made patchouli attractive to my patchouli-phobic nose. Being a part of the non-export collection, Borneo 1834 is available only in Les Salons du Palais Royal in Paris, where it retails for 100 Euros for 75ml.
* The picture of Borneo 1834 is from quickmarket.ru. A Theatre of Shadow scene is from this wonderful site